Let the Battle of Ideas commence
Festival convenors Alastair Donald and Ella Whelan explain why the Battle of Ideas, which starts tomorrow, is so important. If you haven’t got a ticket, there’s still time.
Tickets to the Battle of Ideas festival on Saturday 28 & Sunday 29 October are still available. Free subscribers to this Substack can get 10% off by using promo code SUBSTACK-BOIF23. Paid subscribers can take advantage of our Associates rates to get even bigger discounts. For full details, visit our tickets page. Tickets will also be available to purchase on the door.
COPING WITH CRISIS
Crisis seems to be the word of the year - energy crisis, climate crisis, housing crisis and global economy crisis. There’s a feeling that much of British society seems to be falling apart, from scrapping high-speed rail to NHS waiting lists. Every public service claims to be in crisis. Crisis today, however, is not defined simply by a sense of economic stagnation or social inertia. Rather it comes at a time of increasing culture wars divisions, and a toxic atmosphere of ‘you can’t say that’ censorship.
Geo-political fragmentation also seems the order of the day. The shock of the invasion of Ukraine - and the prospect of never-ending war in Europe - has now been usurped by the horrific scenes of barbarism in Israel. The visceral images of radical Islamism and its nihilistic terror have led to worries this may fuel not only a brutal war in the region, but a new civilisational conflict that spreads well beyond the Middle East. In London, and throughout the Western world, political disorientation and regressive trends have led some so-called progressives to justify, even celebrate, the Hamas pogroms. Clearly, the crisis of politics in the twenty-first century presents profound new challenges to us all.
BEYOND THE ‘WESTMINSTER VILLAGE’
This is YOUR chance to discuss developments beyond the narrow set of ideas that is common currency in Westminster, social media and mainstream news outlets. From the ‘debanking’ phenomenon and the strange reorientation of business around environmental, social and corporate governance to concerns over shoplifters, screenagers, online sleuths, transgenderism and conversion therapy, the festival will take a widescreen look at recent developments.
We need to address difficult questions around the huge societal trends we are living through. Why is social conservatism making such a comeback – particularly among a younger generation keen to spurn sexual freedom? Will artificial intelligence spark a huge shakeup in our very understanding of what it means to be human? The death of impartiality - whether in the media, education or civil service - prompts the question: is it really impossible to keep politics and activism out of ordinary life? From the morality of surrogacy to why Andrew Tate has undue influence over young men, have your say.
This is also a chance to assess the future. With polls predicting a Labour government, how worried should we be about ‘progressive’ politics? With politicians focused on trying to stop us doing things – like smoking, or expressing opinions, online and off, dubbed as harmful and hateful – how do we start to create the economic growth that could make our lives more comfortable?
THE FREE-SPEECH FESTIVAL – JOIN THE DEBATE
Battle of Ideas festival is where we hope new ideas – and even a new politics – can take shape. Key to this will be to embrace the festival slogans Free Speech Allowed and Free Thinkers Welcome. As we’ll explore in debates on dissent and the politics of hate, this means being prepared to reject conformism and go beyond orthodoxies. But it also requires serious effort to make political exchange less toxic and more productive.
Indeed, in the wider world, the festival motto of ‘shaping the future through debate’ may already be having an impact. From net zero to the war on motorists, issues previously thought settled are now being contested. With the issue of Britain’s borders refusing to subside, debate on membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is becoming the property of the public. The festival offers an opportunity to ensure that these and other contentious issues - such as women’s rights and racial equality - are properly debated, despite culture wars divisions.
This is why we encourage everyone to come along with an open mind – accepting the possibility that those on the ‘other side’ of the debate might have a point. We aim to dig beneath the headlines, soundbites and memes. This is not an invitation to listen passively to the ‘experts’. For us, the audience IS the festival. Every session will have plenty of time to ask questions and put your views across.
TOWARDS A NEW ENLIGHTENMENT
Faced with crisis, it would be all too easy to want to switch off and tune out. But this is certainly no time to give ground in the face of twenty-first-century fatalism. Just as the motto ‘Dare to know’ was the battle cry of the Age of Enlightenment in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, so we need to take up the challenge of breathing rationality and reason into a world today that too often succumbs to nihilism.
If you are up for that challenge, then alongside our array of experts, critics and commentators, let’s explore and debate all aspects of our emerging world.
Join us in London on the 28 & 29 October, but also at our one-day festival in Buxton on 25 November, and satellite events around the UK and Europe, too.
Let Battle commence.